Recently, I had the unfortunate opportunity to sit in the presence of a supervisor from my past, for an extended period, and listen to him speak. I was struck once again, even after so many years, by what an awful leader he was and obviously still is.
Then, this post this morning on Twitter got me thinking about leadership in the nonprofit sector.
I’d give attributes for the picture, but there was none provided.
I was originally going to post today about innovation, and still will this week, but I think going back to basics about leadership is critical for any innovative approach to work.
So here is the translation of the above list for the nonprofit sector:
If you are leading your fundraising staff or a nonprofit team, then by definition you are-
- Coaching employees: Providing them with opportunities to fail, to learn, to gain insight, and to achieve. What I mean is: To fail is to learn. To learn is to gain insight. And by gaining insight your staff ultimately achieves. What not to do? If you want to be a BOSS and not a LEADER, then say “no” often, chastise and punish for failures, limit projects, micromanage, get in the way, direct often, maintain an air of criticism when things don’t go well, and show distrust in their efforts.
- Building goodwill among your team: You are authorized to lead. You are not authorized to dictate. A good LEADER will build authentic camaraderie based on respect, admiration of skills, and honesty. From this will flow goodwill. Building goodwill, while for those not comfortable with leadership may sound superfluous, is at the core of every well-run and successful nonprofit organization. Goodwill is contagious, it inspires others to do well for others and to help each other in a supportive environment. You can always tell an organization that depends on the authority and has bankrupted goodwill – no one is safe from backstabbing.
- Generating enthusiasm: Fear. ::shudder:: Fear shuts people down. It causes people not to think, to become myopic, and to distrust everyone and everything. It places stress on the nervous system and creates negative filters. Fear kills. And most certainly it brings fundraising to a screeching halt. Building fear in your staff may bring you the perception of respect, but it will not help you reach your goals. Alternatively, being a cheerleader, generating enthusiasm for the work you do, for the mission of your organization, and for the opportunity to serve the community, elevates people’s spirits, spreads joy. Think about those who speak highly of a LEADER (not a BOSS) and you will hear words such as: spirited, supportive, honest, good-natured, humble, encouraging, and fun!
- Saying “We” and not “I”: In an industry driven by data – number of donors, number of gifts, cost ratios, number of prospects, number of visits… saying “we” can feel risky. How will I be judged for my performance if I cannot ‘count’ my numbers? Your staff will only conspire to share the wealth of achievement if you model such behavior. Authentically identifying when a group effort has achieved a goal or supported progress is the most important way to break down silos. BOSS-men take credit for everything good and demand accountability from others for everything bad. Horrible Bosses do so with impunity. To address the personal performance issue for your management of staff, I always suggest to my clients they follow this rule: Praise all publicly, assess privately.
- Focus on solutions not blame: Throwing around blame reminds me of monkeys in a cage, flinging……..well you get the picture. See number one in this list and realize that blame inhibits good coaching interactions, which instills rigidity and fear and will eventually break down any fundraising effort. Innovation cannot exist in a blame-filled environment. Skip the poo-flinging and get your team focused quickly on the resolution.
- Lead by example: Sometimes, just sometimes, I question whether leaders in the NPO sector actually ever did any fundraising at all? Too many times, I find that leaders are really, really good at A) stating what they read about fundraising or B) demanding some crazy concept they derived as effective -most often based in myth and not reality or research. Good LEADERS learn the craft and then teach the craft through interaction, experience, and modeling behavior.
- Develop people, don’t ‘use’ them: We all met this person in junior high school. Eddie Haskell, looking for favor to gain his own ends. That guy (or gal) who is transparently disingenuous and only calls upon you when they need something. Or worse, the BOSS who places you between himself and a bad outcome. Invest your time in developing relationships with your staff, learn about their personal lives, their likes, their dreams, their fears. Don’t be afraid if they don’t match yours. And don’t be judgmental. CARE about people (Create an Authentic and Respectful Environment).
- Gives Credit: I have been on the receiving end of a BOSS who speaks at a podium, taking credit for all the hard work I and my team have accomplished in reaching a lauded outcome. I have also watched as a BOSS does the same to others. The funny thing is, the BOSS looks like an ass each time. Because the dirty little secret is- everyone knows who did the work. Everyone already knows who gets the credit. Don’t be that BOSS, unless looking like an ass is a personal goal. Giving credit is easy, and contrary to how BOSS-men think, giving credit takes nothing away from you. In fact, giving credit gives credit to your leadership. Because, as we see in the previous seven points in this list, your leadership inspires great things from your team.
- Asks: I am going to unapologetic here when I say “Ask your staff if they can perform a duty, do not tell them to.” The measure of your success as a LEADER will be in their answer. Good leadership inspires people to say some form of yes 99% of the time – “Yes, right now” or “Yes, shortly” or “Yes” with adjustments. But they will want to say yes, because, they want to be a part of this team, they want to lead, they want to perform, they want to please others, they want to excel, they want to work. If you still are hesitant about asking, then you probably have guilt about your leadership style. Change your dance steps and the people you lead will change theirs.
- Saying “Let’s Go!”: I think playing on a team sport during your formative years should be mandatory. Nothing inspires and teaches good leadership like a good sports coach. Or the military. Team is unified, it is collective, it is cellular in nature. It is not independent entities working as one. It is one entity working independently. The core of the team is we. The battle cry is “Let US go”! For your fundraising team, how often do you expect the directors to go around the board table and report on “their” area? Try this instead: before every staff meeting, have each director interview one other to determine how that area’s projects are doing? Ask them to focus their questions on primary data capture: how many mailings, what was the return, etc. Then request they ask follow-up questions such as “How could I help you in this project?”, “How can we as a team support the effort?” and “What did we do that lent to the outcomes?”. Then at your staff meeting, the interviewer gives the report on the project. Watch the dynamic change.
I am a firm believer that everything which happens in our lives has purpose. For me, it was at one time being supervised by this BOSS, and then getting to see him in action again. It helped me realize that LEADERSHIP is more than being a big person at the top. It’s about being that BIG person that brings others to the top. Thanks for that.